Archive for the 'Brand management' Category

L.L. Bean considers a new return policy

From a recent RetailWire discussion, I comment on L.L.Bean’s consideration of a less liberal return policy than it has always been known for:

Having worked for Kohl’s for 24 years, I have a bias toward more forgiving return policies. Kohl’s always viewed its return policies as a competitive advantage and marketing practice (even though there was plenty of gnashing of teeth among the merchant ranks) and I believe this is still the case. Stores can maintain this kind of trust with their customers, even if they look at tweaking the policy through issuance of gift cards for goods returned without receipts or after some time has passed.

I’d be very careful if I were L.L.Bean to walk away from part of what has defined its brand for a long time. As another panelist suggests, look for other reasons why costs are rising faster than sales, starting with merchandise assortments.

Should Bass and Cabela’s maintain separate brand identities?

Bass is acquiring Cabela’s, and one key question it faces is whether to keep separate branding for the two giant outdoor goods retailers. Here’s my thought, as recently posted on RetailWire:

I think it’s arguable that Macy’s made the right call over the long haul, as the only traditional department store with a national footprint. It was important to create brand equity for the “Macy’s” name instead of trying to support a bunch of nameplates with regional appeal. (Bon Ton Stores, on the other hand, decided that “localized” brand identity was a better tactic.)

In the case of Bass and Cabela’s, I think both brands are worth maintaining. These are superstores usually drawing from large trade areas, and not necessarily in direct competition with each other — and both companies with loyal customer bases. There is no point in shutting down the Cabela’s brand in the short term when there will be plenty of other merger-related challenges to deal with first.

What matters more: Merchandising or marketing?

I realize the answer probably depends on your background in retailing, but you can tell from my RetailWire comment that I have a point of view on this one:

With all due credit to marketing consistency, I think it’s overrated as the key driver of customer loyalty — at least in this survey. Communicating to customers — wherever they look for marketing messages — is an important building block in branding, but it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Marketing needs to function alongside merchandise content, pricing strategies, customer service and so forth — and in a consistent way with the other pieces of the retail puzzle — in order to turn a satisfied customer into a committed one.

By the way, since retailers are in the business of selling goods and services…isn’t merchandise content (the right product in stock when the customer wants it) the most important attribute? If stores don’t execute this, does marketing matter?

West Elm’s brand extension: Hotels

An interesting announcement recently about West Elm’s plan to open boutique hotels in selected cities…and here’s my take from a recent RetailWire discussion:

Part of West Elm’s stated motivation is to widen the brand footprint without opening too many brick-and-mortar stores. It’s a creative way to expand a lifestyle brand into a related business. (Of course there is the added benefit of filling several hotels with saleable product.)

Hotels have been in the ancillary business of selling their proprietary mattresses, bedding and towels for several years. This takes the concept into reverse gear, and it may turn out to be a brand expansion opportunity for West Elm’s parent, too — Williams Sonoma Kitchens inside West Elm Hotels, anyone?

American Girl and Lands’ End: Did they make the right call?

American Girl recently announced its expansion into Toys “R” Us stores, while Lands’ End plans to sell its product on Amazon. These are two very different kinds of products — and distribution decisions. My comments (from RetailWire) suggest that I agree with one of the decisions but not the other….because more distribution is not always better.

First, regarding American Girl:

Yes, Toys “R” Us is the biggest big-box toy chain by far (not counting the huge sales at Walmart and Target) so it’s a tempting decision for American Girl. But I think it cheapens a premium brand, and there may have been other ways to drive broader distribution (and more sales). For example, wouldn’t a traditional department store like Macy’s be a suitable home for American Girl shop concepts?

Next, about Lands’ End:

By 2017, Amazon may outpace Walmart as the biggest seller of apparel in the U.S. It’s hard to argue with its legitimacy and power if you’re a label trying to rebuild your volume base, not just your brand equity. Remember, Lands’ End was tarnished by its years-long association with Sears (including its shops within Sears store), so it’s not nowhere to go but up.

Ralph Lauren and the luxury malaise

I commented recently (on RetailWire) on the problems faced by the new CEO at Ralph Lauren. How to be more nimble and efficient while also protecting an iconic brand? Here are a few thoughts:

This is a complex challenge, because the Lauren brand equity has been weakened over the past several years. I believe customers are confused by the price/quality relationship between Ralph Lauren, Lauren, Polo Ralph Lauren and subsidiary brands like Chaps. It doesn’t help matters that the growth of outlet store business has further commoditized the brand.

Smarter sourcing (cheaper and faster) is something that the new CEO can bring to the table…but are quicker lead times really meaningful for iconic items like polos and navy blazers? And will “taking out costs” also mean compromising quality? These are big questions that will complicate the job of restoring some clarity and “polish” to the RL brand.

Should Victoria’s Secret drop the catalogue?

From a recent RetailWire panel discussion, about rumors that Victoria’s Secret may discontinue the catalog that made it a household word:

The heyday of the print catalog has passed, for many of the reasons mentioned in the article. The production and mailing costs are high, and e-commerce provides a more cost-efficient and targeted way to reach consumers.

But I would caution VS against dropping the catalog completely; to some degree it’s synonymous with the brand image. And judicious use of direct mail and print vehicles (fewer pages and less frequency) can still be part of an effective marketing menu.